Pilatus money laundering: arrest warrants not yet served to bosses

​Pilatus bank bosses mounting ‘scorched-earth’ litigations against government and MFSA officers despite money laundering charges pending 

Since his exoneration in the USA, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad has been filing cases for damages and restitution against the Maltese government, MFSA officials and the ECB
Since his exoneration in the USA, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad has been filing cases for damages and restitution against the Maltese government, MFSA officials and the ECB

International arrest warrants for Pilatus Bank owners and top brass have not yet been executed, despite being signed by a magistrate in March 2021 on the back of a 600,000 page inquiry into the shuttered private bank.  

The IAWs remain pending ever since Magistrate Ian Farrugia signed them, three months after finalising the €7.5 million inquiry in December 2020.  

The arrest warrants are for Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, who is believed to be living in the United States of America after his arrest and later acquittal on sanctions-busting charges; Pilatus Bank operations chief Luis Rivera, now living in Texas; operations supervisor Mehmet Tasli; director Hamidreza Ghambari; and chief risk officer Antoniella Gauci. 

Police have so far only initiated action against Pilatus Bank as a financial entity, and former legal officer Claude Anna Sant Fournier, both charged with money laundering. 

 Executing the IAWs requires joint action by the Maltese police as well as the ministry of foreign affairs.  

MaltaToday is informed that the warrants were issued to question the Pilatus officers for having facilitated large volumes of suspicious transactions through their bank, which could have had criminal origins.  

The transactions were not reported to the Maltese financial intelligence unit (FIAU) and instead laundered through the boutique bank.  

But since the warrants were issued, Pilatus’s owners have been mounting a campaign of costly legal challenges in American and international tribunals against the Maltese government, the European Central Bank, the financial regulator MFSA, and officials tasked with managing the shuttered bank, to extract compensation over the suspension of its banking licence.  

Even the Egrant inquiry – an investigation requested by former prime minister Joseph Muscat into allegations he owned a secret Panama offshore company – had found red flags of money laundering inside the Ta’ Xbiex bank.  

Specifically, a forensic review found “commonly accepted red flags for money laundering” in Pilatus transactions involving the daughters of Azerbaijan ruler Ilham Aliyev and the sons of his minister for emergency situations Kamaleddin Heydarov, and requested roping in the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, China and Turkey for cooperation into the investigation.  

The report identified suspicious transactions from companies owned by the Aliyev daughters, such as Sahra FZCO, and the Heydarovs, to a Dubai-based company called Palma Management Consulting.  

117 payments were made to Palma by nine companies, including Sahra FZCO, whose directors are Aliyev’s daughters Leyla and Arzu.  

The Aliyevas are also involved in the seven other companies: three established in UAE, two in Azerbaijan and one, Roundtree Ventures, in the British Virgin Islands.  

While the Egrant inquiry found no evidence of Azerbaijani money passing to Joseph Muscat or his wife, who had no bank account at Pilatus, the foreign experts in the Pilatus inquiry recommended further investigative steps on the Egrant investigation.  

In November 2021, finance minister Clyde Caruana assured parliament that all necessary resources would be offered to authorities if the Egrant investigation had to be reopened.  

Pilatus Bank was shut down by the ECB and the MFSA in March 2018 after Pilatus owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejhad was arrested by FBI at Dulles Airport, charged with breaching sanctions against Iran when he funnelled dollar payments to his Iranian family’s companies.  

Pilatus Bank was also fined a record €4.9 million by the FIAU for letting millions in suspect funds flow through Malta unchallenged.  

Since then, Pilatus’s owners Alpene Ltd has been filing cases in the United States law courts against the competent persons appointed by the MFSA to manage the shuttered banks’ assets.  

One of the defendants, Elizabeth McCaul, a member of the ECB supervisory board, described the lawsuits as “a continuation of Sadr’s scorched-earth litigation strategy”, accusing owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad of harassment “by pursuing irrelevant inquiries and invading communications and documents protected from disclosure.”  

Pilatus also filed a host of cases in the EU’s Court of Justice to challenge the suspension its banking licence. Alpene also filed for restitution and additional compensation in a case it filed against Maltese government in the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).